Each morning, at the Groton Family Farm, customers enter a big white barn to help themselves to the contents of a refrigerator. They drop money in an honor box and depart happily with their precious cargo.
The farmer, Warren Burrows, recently accused one tardy customer of “living dangerously,” as she dropped $4 in the honor box before checking the fridge. After all, the cartons of Burrows’ pasture-raised eggs sell out every day, and it’s not uncommon for the fridge to run empty, until the next morning, when more eggs are collected.
“Eggs you buy in the store are at least two or three weeks old,” Burrows says, “and mine are just a day old at the most, so they’re a lot fresher.”
To see Burrows relaxing in his barn – talking to neighbors and friends and discussing chickens, tomatoes and sheep – you might never guess that he’s also an accomplished hand surgeon at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Then again, if you saw Dr. Burrows in the sterile environment of the operating room, surgically relieving a patient’s carpel tunnel syndrome or helping someone with severe arthritis, you’d probably never guess that the same man is master of 600 chickens, not to mention dozens of Shetland sheep and thousands of vegetable plants, all grazing or growing on 14 acres off of Route 1, just a stone’s throw from Groton Town Hall.
“I’m a farmer four days a week and a doctor three days a week,” Burrows says. “I think it’s a good mix, actually. When I’m not being a doctor, I love being a farmer, and when I’m not being a farmer, I love being a doctor. It’s really the best of all worlds. It’s a great mix, and it satisfies several desires and needs in my life.”
Burrows didn’t grow up as a farmer. In fact, he grew up in the Boston area and then went to medical school at Columbia University in New York City. He did his residency at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City, and had a hand fellowship in Indianapolis.
For a couple of years he worked for a hand practice in Los Angeles, but he moved back east to Charlotte, N.C., and practiced hand surgery there for nearly 25 years.
“That’s where my main practice was,” he says, “and I actually retired to come up here to start the farm and get the place rejuvenated.”
The farm, and the 1784 homestead where Burrows lives, has been in his family for many generations, and it was in 2005 that he took the opportunity to move here and take over the place, returning the property to a working farm.
It was serendipitous moment when Burrows met Dr. Frank Maletz, an L+M orthopedic surgeon, and learned that L+M, at the time, needed a hand surgeon. Burrows began his duel career as farmer and doctor, using both his “brains and brawn,” as he says.
“I enjoy the surgery,” he says. “It’s all about working with patients and making them better. The nice thing about surgery is that you’re not usually dealing with a chronic problem. You do something and you help the patient and they have less pain.”
Dr. Burrows performs surgery at the Pequot Health Center not far from his farm. His farming and his medicine are both at the forefront of national trends: cutting-edge surgical services at L+M, and locally grown produce, which is part of a national movement to reduce the transportation costs of bringing food to the table, as well as making produce more nutritious and better tasting.
“They have compared pasture-raised eggs to industrial eggs, where the chickens are grown in cages and fed just one diet of grains,” says Burrows. “The pasture-raised eggs have three or four times the Vitamin A, they have six or seven times the beta carotene, a third more omega three, and one-third less cholesterol, because the chickens are exercising, so their body cholesterol is lower.”
Burrows can often be seen collecting eggs in the early morning or examining the 500 tomato plants and other vegetables around the farm. He can shake a container of food pellets and his Shetland sheep come running; he has them shorn each year and sells the wool.
All things told, Burrows says he loves living close to the land and watching the farm change each day as the seasons progress.
“I don’t do it just for fun,” he says of the farming. “I could have fun going fishing every day. But it’s a lifestyle that I respect and enjoy.”
The good news for L+M employees and area residents: Burrows will be selling his eggs at the Farmer’s Market, beginning June 6 and held each Wednesday on Montauk Avenue across from the hospital. But get there early. Just like the refrigerator in his barn, these eggs won’t last long.
To learn more about Dr. Burrows, click here.